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Elite quarterbacks headline AFC, NFC Championship games

Jan. 21 (UPI) — Three former MVPs and one of 2020’s top NFL players led their teams into this weekend’s conference title games, with Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers, Patrick Mahomes and Josh Allen in the mix for a Super Bowl berth.

Brady, a six-time champion, is the most-decorated gunslinger of the bunch — and in NFL history. His Tampa Bay Buccaneers will battle Rodgers’ Green Bay Packers in the NFC Championship game Sunday in Green Bay, Wis.

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Mahomes will then take on Allen in a battle between ascending phenoms when the Chiefs host the Bills in Sunday’s nightcap in Kansas City, Mo.

Rodgers is the frontrunner for 2020 NFL MVP honors and is on a quest to win his second Super Bowl. Brady is attempting to win his first title with the Buccaneers after his Hall of Fame, 20-year tenure with the New England Patriots.

“It’s tough to get to this point, so we need a big week [and] a great week of practice,” Brady told reporters after the Buccaneers beat the beat the New Orleans Saints on Sunday in New Orleans.

“We play one of the best teams in the league, obviously, in Green Bay. [They are] the top seed, Aaron is playing incredible. They’ve got a great defense, so it’s going to be a great matchup.”

Brady, 43, completed 65.7% of his passes for 4,633 yards and had 40 touchdown passes — his highest total since 2007 — this season.

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The Buccaneers beat the Packers 38-10 in October. Rodgers’ Packers went on to win 10 of their next 12 games to claim the No. 1 seed in the NFC.

The Packers had the fewest turnovers in the league in 2020. The Buccaneers defense forced the fifth-most turnovers. The Packers also had the top scoring offense in the NFL, while the Buccaneers ranked No. 3.

Rodgers led the league in completion percentage (70.7%) and touchdown passes (48). He also had a league-best passer rating of 121.5 for the 13-3 Packers, but he also threw two of his five interceptions this season against the Buccaneers.

Brady and Rodgers never met in the playoffs during Brady’s two decades with the Patriots. Brady has a 2-1 career record in head-to-head matchups against the fellow All-Pro.

The Packers are three-point favorites on most betting websites. The Buccaneers and Packers will kick off at 3:05 p.m. EST Sunday at Lambeau Field. Snow is forecast in Green Bay.

“You have to go earn it,” Packers coach Matt LaFleur said. “This is a great challenge. This is as well-rounded of a football team we have played [against] all season long.”

Allen vs. Mahomes

Super Bowl LIV MVP Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs also are three-point favorites to beat Josh Allen’s Bills.

Mahomes had another spectacular season in 2020, as he completed 66.3% of his throws for 4,740 yards, 38 touchdowns and six interceptions for the 14-2 Chiefs.

Mahomes remains in the NFL’s concussion protocol after he was forced out of the Chiefs’ win over the Cleveland Browns on Sunday in Kansas City.

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His game status remains in question, but he resumed light practice Wednesday. He could be cleared for full contact by Friday if he continues to advance through the five stages of the protocol.

The Chiefs beat the Bills 26-17 in October. The Bills have won 11 of their last 12 games since that meeting.

Allen is among the contenders for the regular-season MVP award. The Bills quarterback completed a career-high 69.2% of his throws for 4,544 yards, 37 scores and 10 interceptions in 16 starts in 2020. He also ran for 421 yards and eight touchdowns for the 13-3 Bills.

“This is the next step for Josh,” Bills coach Sean McDermott said Wednesday. “This is what you work for. He will be ready and we are extremely confident.”

The Chiefs and Bills kick off at 6:40 p.m. EST on Sunday at Arrowhead Stadium.

History of elite quarterbacks

Brady on Sunday will make his ninth conference title game appearance in 11 seasons. Rodgers will appear in his fifth NFC Championship game during that same timespan.

“We had some good moments on the field, in the locker room and on the plane,” Buccaneers coach Bruce Arians said of Brady and his teammates. “[Brady] knows it’s just starting — this is far from being finished. He’s holding most of them in check.”

Mahomes will make his third AFC Championship game appearance in as many seasons. Allen leads the Bills into the AFC Championship game for the first time since 1994. At least one former league MVP quarterback has appeared in one of the respective conference title games every year since 2005.

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Each of the last seven Super Bowls has featured at least one quarterback who was a former NFL MVP.

Mahomes, the 2018 NFL MVP, and the Chiefs are favored to repeat as Super Bowl champions. The Packers and Rodgers, a two-time MVP, have the second-best odds.

How to watch

NFC Championship: Buccaneers at Packers at 3:05 p.m. EST Sunday on Fox

AFC Championship: Bills at Chiefs at 6:40 p.m. EST Sunday on CBS

Super Bowl LV: Bills-Chiefs winner vs. Buccaneers-Packers winner at 6:30 p.m. EST Feb. 7 on CBS

This week in the National Football League

The Cleveland Browns won the AFC Wild Card game against the Pittsburgh Steelers 48-37 in a nearly empty Heinz Field in Pittsburgh on Sunday. Photo by Archie Carpenter/UPI | License Photo

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